It came down to the Oklahoma City Thunder and specifically Russell Westbrook losing his man, Tony Parker, on the final play. Serge Ibaka is big and fast, but Tony Parker had enough time to get the shot off, and complete another win for the San Antonio Spurs based on the tired legs of Tim Duncan.
Duncan, 36 years old, played back to back nights with 34 minutes on the floor. Against the Thunder he had a bit more trouble shooting the ball than he did against the Hornets and the inexperienced Anthony Davis, making 8 of his 19 shots, but still finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds. As impressive as the development of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green; as deep as their bench is, the distance this team goes depends on how well Tim Duncan holds up in the 82 game season and how good Tony Parker plays. Manu Ginobili? Let’s wait for him to return.
The win is on Parker. With 28.4 seconds left, Parker hit a three pointer that tied the game at 84. Again, Russell Westbrook could have done much more to stop that shot. Popovich isn’t happy with his main guys playing big minutes on back to back night, but there was nothing much he could do about it. Parker gave back with two huge clutch shots, 14 points and 11 assists.
And Duncan? He began the game in a storm with a big block on Kevin Durant, following up with a huge dunk on Serge Ibaka. He got fatigued as the game progressed, but in all, Duncan can still lock-down the paint, with enough help, and dominate down low against stronger and more athletic guys. The Spurs run so many set plays as opposed to the Thunder who rely so much on god given talent, youth and speed. Still, the Spurs limited the Thunder to only six fast break points and 24 points in the paint.
How far can this team go? Tony Parker and Tim Duncan might be enough to carry them in most regular season games, but Kawhi Leonard will have to be more consistent offensively. The need for him and for players like Danny Green to finish in the double digits is greater than ever before, while both Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson surprised with their offensive contributions in the game.
How much more of a window is there left for the Spurs to win with these guys? Tim Duncan begins the season with two big games, but a fall is going to happen at one point. The man needs his rest, especially when the postseason is what it’s all about. Tiago Splitter will have to be more than just a 4 minute man in those games. Green (who finished with 13 points) and Leonard will need to be about more than just defense, but also about making up for the points Ginobili can’t score anymore.
For now, back to back games right off the bat isn’t so bad, and the Spurs got a big win over a team that won 4 in a row against them to close out the Western finals. A nice morale boost, nothing more, in such a long campaign. But anyone not counting the Spurs in the race for the NBA title isn’t thinking straight. Playing smarter basketball than anyone else has to count for something.